Some three decades ago, when Traci Stevens first tried the high jump in junior high, she was a self-described shrimp at 5 feet tall.
Today, at 5 feet, 8 inches, many look up to the 43-year-old Grantsville resident both literally and figuratively. As Grantsville High School’s track coach and the outgoing girls cross country coach, dozens of young athletes, including her daughter Hailey and son Bryson, have looked to her for inspiration and advice.
Like her mom, GHS junior Hailey is all legs and about as tall. They both have easy grins and can-do attitudes. Also like her mom, she’s already making a name in the sport of track and field.
Fresh from placing first in high jump and third in long jump at state in mid-May, Hailey was taking it easy last week.
She had no set practices, except for a bit of conditioning like jumping on the trampoline. The break won’t last long. On June 7 and 8, Hailey will compete in the high jump and long jump events at The Great Southwest Invitational in Albuquerque, N.M.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Hailey said. “I’ll just go and compete. There will be a lot of talented kids.”
If talent were measured in medals and headlines, Traci and Hailey have plenty. Traci’s scrapbook of awards and news clippings as well as Hailey’s news clippings, ribbons and medals cover their whole coffee table.
Both mother and daughter trace their interest in track back to junior high. Traci did both gymnastics and track, but focused on track after her growth spurt at 16.
“I got too tall to be a gymnast,” she said.
With an older sister who excelled as a sprinter and high jumper (she held the 4A state record for high jump at 5 feet, 9 inches and a quarter), Traci resisted high jump for the longest time.
“I stayed away from high jump as long as I could because I wanted to be my own self, not just ‘Tammy’s little sister’ forever,” she said. “I tried [high jump] in ninth grade and found out it was pretty fun.”
Similarly, with all her time demands, Hailey had to decide between softball and track. The latter won out.
“Mom had done it and had been successful and I wanted to be too,” she said.
Although Traci never did beat her sister’s record, she racked up successes along the way, winning a track scholarship to Boise State University. That first year was rough, however.
“I didn’t compete well,” she said. “I was adjusting to being away from home.”
With her scholarship cut, she transferred to the University of Utah and walked on to their track team, sitting out a year.
“The year I red-shirted, the national championships were held at [Brigham Young University],” she said. “A couple of former Boise State teammates competed. As I sat watching them, I promised myself I would be at the next National Championships. I was disappointed in the season I had at Boise. I knew my ability was better than that, and so I decided I was going to prove it. I realized I was just like everybody else out there. I didn’t need to give them the win.”
With this new mindset, she made it to nationals her sophomore year. As a senior, she jumped 6 feet, 3/4 inch, placing in the top six at nationals and earning her an All-American Award. Her personal record of 6 feet, 1 and 7/8 inches stands as the University of Utah girls high jump record.
In 1992, two weeks after graduating from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, she was off to the Olympic trials in New Orleans.
“I rode up the elevator with Carl Lewis and met Jackie Joyner,” she said. “I ate at the cafeteria with these athletes. People were getting my autograph.”
Even though she didn’t qualify for the Olympics, she learned a lot.
“[I learned that] if I’m not happy with the way things are, I can change them,” she said. “Making these changes takes a lot of hard work and a lot of patience. In the end, it’s well worth the effort.”
Such is the philosophy she’s given to her daughter. That, and a pair of neon green spike shoes. Traci gave them to Hailey when she qualified for state as a freshman at her very first meet.
“Mom told me she’d buy me high jump shoes if I qualify for state,” Hailey said. “Putting them on, I was just excited. With spikes in the back sole, they grip better. They’re getting small now, but I still love them.”
Mother and daughter have a track record of trying new events and excelling in them. They both competed in heptathlons, which feature shotput, hurdles, javelin, 800 meters, high jump, long jump and 200 meters.
As a sophomore, Hailey placed eighth in long jump at state, after practicing the event for only a month. At region on May 7 and 8 this year in Morgan, Hailey set a school and personal record of 18 feet at long jump, beating out her mom’s record of 17 feet, 11 inches.
At state, she placed eighth in hurdles, which was not bad for a first year.
“Hailey is very coachable and athletic,” Stevens said. “She’s successful at events she picks up because she learns quickly.”
Hailey has also competed in cross country. For both, however, high jump rules. Hailey’s personal record stands at 5 feet, 6 inches.
“I like the feeling of falling,” she said. “You jump up and then you’re falling backward over the bar.”
Traci echoed this.
“Once you take off, you don’t realize what’s going on until your back is over the bar,” she said. “You feel like you’re floating. You’re lying with your back in the air. The higher you go, the longer you have to fall. It’s cool.”
After college, Traci coached at the University of Utah from 1994 to 1998, then came on board as track coach at GHS in 2002, taking a year off when she had her youngest daughter.
In 2006, she was inducted in the University of Utah’s Crimson Club Athletic Hall of Fame. Candidates had to be out of college for 10 years, nominated by somebody, and had to demonstrate exceptional athletic ability or contribute in a meaningful way in their sport.
Traci added on girls cross-country coaching duties at GHS in 2011 and recently stepped down for family reasons.
Named the 2013 GHS Female Coach of the Year, Traci said, “It’s fun to coach the kids and it’s an added bonus to coach my daughter. It’s fun to share successes and the same interest with her.”
Hailey likes having her mom for her coach.
“When I’m having a hard time, she can help me,” she said. “She talks me through things. She’ll say, ‘Just do what you do. Be you.’”